Happy March! Summer is quickly approaching and a lot of people tend to book their summer vacations during the spring as we are only a few months before the busy season begins. There are people and families who have already booked their summer trips way in advance and have potentially scored the first available award seats when the schedule opened up 11 months prior to a flight. The good news is that airlines periodically release more seats prior to departure and usually one of those “waves” is a few months out – now.
The busiest travel periods are those during the months of June, July, and August, as well as mid-late December to early January. During these times, it can be very hard to book a Business Class ticket for the whole family to Europe, for example. Thankfully, there are tips and tricks that you can use to find more award availability and perhaps find a flight that works for your family.
Search Availability from a Hub City
You should always start your searches from a bigger, hub city – like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc. For example, let’s say you want to fly from Santa Barbara to London this summer and when you search for flights, nothing comes up. Half of the time, the domestic flight is the issue – US airlines tend to release less saver-level award seats than before on domestic routes and due to the limited flights out of Santa Barbara, in this case, you should start searching from bigger cities – like San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, etc.
Those bigger, hub cities have more flights and more international airlines which usually offer more availability than US airlines. It is much easier to fly Business Class to Europe on a European airline than a US airline due to award availability. In our example, say you found availability out of a major US West Coast city – then you would need to make your own way from Santa Barbara to that city. If there is saver-level award availability that works with your itinerary, you can usually add that on to your booking without issue (depending on the frequent flyer program you are using).
Always search from bigger cities that have more connections and airlines – international airlines tend to have more availability and it is generally fairly easy to book a short domestic flight to get to your international departure gateway city.
Flexibility is Key
The most important thing to note is that you must be flexible. If you have a set date that you need to fly on and are looking for multiple premium cabin tickets, you can forget about it – it is highly unlikely that the exact flight you want will be available on that exact date for all of your travelers.
It is much easier to find award availability if you search over the whole summer instead of if you limit yourself to two weeks in July, for example. You should always book flights first, followed by hotels, followed by activities. Flights will be the hardest to book on miles and points and those are usually the most important aspect of the whole trip. Remember that most US frequent flyer programs no longer have any change or cancellation fees – so you can always book an award and change it later, should something better open up.
Another part of being flexible means flying separately – while not ideal, it may be the only way your family of 4 can fly to Europe in Business Class. Finding 2 seats on a flight and 2 on another will be much easier than finding 4 seats in the premium cabin all on one flight. This could mean that part of your family arrives at your destination a day before, or you could potentially line up flights that you all arrive roughly at the same time.
Some destinations are more popular than other ones – and during peak summer, it is very possible that a majority of the flights to where you want to go will be sold out. There are more people traveling nowadays than before, so flights are full – and airlines are constantly changing their schedules as well. If the destination you want to fly to has no availability, consider flying elsewhere and then taking either a regional flight on a separate booking or perhaps a train to end up where you want to be.
If you are heading to Europe and are planning to visit several places all on one trip, changing up their order and being flexible on the dates will open up more availability for you. Don’t lock yourself in to be somewhere on a specific date – find the availability of the flights first, change up your plans a bit, and then make solid plans after booking.
Diversify Your Miles & Points
It is incredibly important that you diversify your miles & points – do not collect miles with just one airline and expect to use them for travel anywhere; that probably won’t work. While collecting miles with various airlines definitely helps and opens your options, the best way to collect miles and points is with transferable points programs such as American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and Marriott Bonvoy.
Collecting points with these transferable points programs has a number of benefits such as the ability to then transfer them to various airlines and hotels. For example, if you have AMEX Membership Rewards points you’re able to transfer them to a number of airlines – if one airline has no availability chances are another might and therefore your options are always open. The other benefit of collecting these points is that they generally do not expire as long as you have the account/credit card open, while airline miles might expire after some time or inactivity.
All in All
Everyone is excited for summer – it is the best time of the year for most of us, we are able to unwind and relax after busy months and gloomy weather. The world offers so many incredible summer destinations that your family might have a hard time deciding where to vacation – just remember to check flight availability before you make any solid plans. Remember to be flexible on your dates and travel route – this will only help you find something that works. Be open to other destinations and if necessary, fly separately if there are better flight options. Last summer was a crazy one with airlines changing and canceling flights constantly due to shortages, but this summer is looking much brighter with more flights added and new destinations for many airlines.